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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Taming

How am I alive if I can't tell other people about it? — Bianca

Maddie Jo Landers (Photo by Enrico Spada)
Three people locked in a room sounds like the premise for the soul-searching existential play by Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit. But at Shakespeare & Co. The Taming is the basis for a raucous political satire by Lauren Gunderson, which ushers the audience through an outlandish 90 minutes — replete with scandal, sexual innuendo, cell phone mania and glitter.

No political faction or ideology is left unscathed as Gunderson's pointed barbs are aimed at all of the guilty parties currently involved in the American uncivil discourse which defines our current stalemate. Though written prior to the government shutdown in 2013, the play's themes seem even more timely than in the past.

This powerfully funny play makes us laugh even while we wince at the familiar foibles of our "democratic" process and the pathetic machinations behind the scenes. All of this insanity takes place on the eve, believe it or not, of the Miss America Pageant, usually the most banal and predictable American exploitation gimmick never imagined by the founding fathers.

The events of an evening are set in motion by a super sexy and shrewd beauty queen contestant played with just the right combination of calculated insouciance and ditzy blonde hand-waving by Maddie Jo Landers as Katherine. A true Georgia peach, her entrance in an altogether over-the-top costume designed by Esther Van Eek alerts us that this is going to be an unusual romp through the American myth of God, mom and apple pie.

We are entering uncharted territory because this Miss America contestant has an entirely different agenda for the trite question about the goals of a candidate. Katherine has changed her position on the plea for "Sunglasses for Babies" and now wants nothing less than to rewrite the Constitution of the United States. To this end she kidnaps and imprisons two high-powered women representing politically disparate camps.

Patricia (Tangela Large) is the sneering, supercilious power behind an ultra-conservative Southern senator. She has clawed her way to the top and is now in a position where she does ". . .everything but blink for that man." Her right wing platitudes and contempt for liberals finds the perfect foil in Bianca, played with swagger and braggadocio by Lucy Lavely, who as a self-important blogger, feels that it is her calling to bring down the smarmy senator and defeat his bill. Bianca will use every unscrupulous trick to save the Panda Shrew (apparently an endangered species) and to promote herself to fame. She boasts that " . . . have Twitter feeds, hashtags and MEMES, okay. The internet needs me."

Each woman's self-serving, one-track vision of America serves to create much of the humor which we have had to rely on for coping with the political paralysis of the times. The audience laughs and cringes at the women's posturing and braying which most of the audience has heard countless times on the news cycle.

The three actresses are new to Shakespeare & Co. and their energy and comic timing are abetted by the able direction of Nicole Ricciardi who keeps the tempo moving in Nano-seconds. The imaginative costumes by Van Eek, especially Miss Georgia along with the time-warp visit to the past, are inspired. In this dream-like sequence the cast journeys back to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the two ultra-theorists switch roles as James Madison and Charles Pinckney argue over slavery. Katherine, in a succession of quick costume changes, makes guest appearances as George and Martha Washington, and Dolly Madison, which add more sly references to our own muddled times.

The set by John McDermott has moving parts and a fantastic patriotic streamer screen It's lit by James Bilnoski which enhances the sparkle of these fabulous women. Amy Altadonna's sound even allows for a "dance break for America"
Does the play have a point? Probably many. There are references to a shrew, quotes from the Bard, and very clever artful comparisons between different American political climates. The non-stop conflict, digs and witty nastiness hit home with an audience in need of relief from this particularly strange election year. In fact, it may be less bizarre now than we originally thought.

The Taming by Lauren Gunderson
Director: Nicole Ricciardi
Cast: Maddie Jo Landers (Catherine) Tangela Large (Patricia) Lucy Lavely (Bianca)
Set Design: John McDermott
Costume Design: Esther Van Eek
Lighting Design: James Bilnoski
Sound Design: Amy Altadonna
Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein
Running Time: Ninety minutes; no intermission
Shakespeare & Co., Elayne Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA
From 5/27/16; opening 6/4/16; closing 7/30/16
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at 6/4/16 performance
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